In the final week of Olympic coverage, the world will turn their attention to the team events and track and field. While the games roll on, two decorated athletes find themselves at the opposite end of the spectrum when it comes to not just their results from Rio but their public perception, Gabby Douglas and Michael Phelps.
As a writer, it makes for a good story, but it is in a lot of ways a sad testament to how social media and instant access to the news can turn a media darling into a villain. It can turn a pothead into a hero, and all of this over the span of just a few days.
In 2012, the world couldn’t get enough of Gabby Douglas. Granted, there was still the ridiculous story about her hair as told by the Daily Beast, but she accomplished what no African American woman had ever accomplished. She took the all-around gold medal at just 16 -years-old. She appeared on the cover of Time and Sports Illustrated. She was on the cover of cereal boxes.
Douglas through it all always represents herself with grace and dignity. She is certainly a role model all young ladies, regardless of race, can look up to and admire. She has never stepped out of line in public. However, this Olympics has seen a total unwarranted backlash come her way.
After one of the most dominate Olympic performances in the history of the games, Team USA’s women’s gymnastic team took the podium for their gold medal. As the national anthem played, Gabby stood at attention, and she failed to place her hand over her heart. The world erupted.
Ultimately, the pressure and the attitude towards Gabby took its toll. After finishing seventh out of eight on the uneven bars, her final Olympic event, she broke down. When asked about the tears, she could not help but open up about what her final Olympics will be remembered as.
“I tried to stay off the internet because there’s just so much negativity. Either it was about my hair or my hand not over my heart (on the medal podium) or I look depressed…. It was hurtful. It was hurtful. It was. It’s been kind of a lot to deal with.
“I apologized if I offended anyone. I’ve always said it was an honor to represent the U.S. You always do this for your country, and then, like people say, for yourself and other people.”
Now, let’s take a look at this year’s golden boy, Michael Phelps. Michael Phelps is arguably the greatest Olympian in history let alone the United States. It’s highly unlikely that either his total medal count of 28 or gold medal count of 23 will ever be broken. However, the fans have been a lot more forgiving to Phelps than they seem to be to Douglas.
Less than two years ago, CNN broke the news that Phelps would be serving a six month suspension from USA Swimming for driving under the influence. This coupled with the now famous bong smoking picture from 2009 tarnished his reputation.
To his credit, Phelps served his time. He stepped away from swimming. He put his life back in order, and he went out on a bigger high note than any athlete could ever dream of. He should be honored for his accomplishments. However, it just seems like American athletes are only admired while they are winning, and this attitude is against what the Olympics stand for.
Years from now, Gabby Douglas and Michael Phelps will both be held up as two of America’s greatest athletes. They shattered barriers on so many different levels, Michael in the pool and Gabby in socially. How they finish their careers shouldn’t really matter, yet sadly, it does.
[Image via Matthew Stockman/Getty Images]